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The Tyranny of the Consciousness-Raisers: Leninism, Anarchism and Jesus

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Dyjbas
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Mar 12 2020 16:15

Thanks for the in-depth response ajjohnstone. I think the fundamental difference here is that I'm with Luxemburg, rather than Martov, on this: "What is in order is to distinguish the essential from the non-essential, the kernel from the accidental excrescencies in the politics of the Bolsheviks. [...] It is not a matter of this or that secondary question of tactics, but of the capacity for action of the proletariat, the strength to act, the will to power of socialism as such. In this, Lenin and Trotsky and their friends were the first, those who went ahead as an example to the proletariat of the world; they are still the only ones up to now who can cry with Hutten: “I have dared!” This is the essential and enduring in Bolshevik policy."

As such, the other options you name seem hardly like a solution. Choosing to share power with bourgeois parties would have made Bolsheviks no different to the other parties of the Second International which abandoned the working class. Entrenching themselves in intransigent opposition and declining the responsibilities of power, at the very moment when the working class began to recognise itself under the banner of "all power to the soviets", would have reduced them to a sect (once they won a majority in the soviets, were they supposed to just say "thanks, but no thanks"?).

In fact, when the Mensheviks and SRs still held a majority, Lenin offered them a compromise: transfer power to the soviets now, while you're the majority, form a government responsible to the soviets, and the revolution might even proceed peacefully. "The Bolsheviks would gain the opportunity of quite freely advocating their views and of trying to win influence in the Soviets under a really complete democracy. [...] The Mensheviks and S.R.s would gain in that they would at once obtain every opportunity to carry out their bloc’s programme with the support of the obviously overwhelming majority of the people and in that they would secure for themselves the “peaceful” use of their majority in the Soviets." Of course they refused, putting their hopes in the bourgeois state instead. It fell on the Bolsheviks (and Left SRs, and some anarchists) to do it instead.

ajjohnstone wrote:
The Bolsheviks failed to do so, emasculating what workers organisations existed, sacrificing their independence and strength to the altar of their One Party Rule. From 1917 all vestiges of democratic self-reliance by the working class was removed piece by piece.

I think this doesn't correspond to reality. What we see before the October Revolution, and in the first 6 months after October, is the Bolsheviks being at the forefront of the self-organisation of the class (encouraging the formation of soviets, factory committees, and communes all across the empire). As the effects of the economic crisis, famine, foreign intervention and civil war hit, this grassroots activity diminishes and the Bolsheviks adopt a siege mentality, trying to hold out until a revolution in the West (which never arrives, despite significant movements in places like Germany, Hungary, Finland, Italy, etc. - so it wasn't the case that "no response was given to the call"). At the same time, it is clear that Mensheviks and SR victories in the elections to the soviets in spring and summer of 1918 would have meant a shift in the balance of class forces back towards capitalist rule (prepared as they were to ally against soviet power even with the Whites), so you can see why they were concerned.

At the time, yes, the economic reality of the Russian Empire dictated that a working class revolution would mean a minority (workers) imposing itself on the majority (rest of population). Hence the importance of having peasants on your side. However, the conclusion you seem to draw from that is the working class should have waited, let capitalist development do its thing, and maybe try for socialism some 50-100 years later. I think, particularly after the horrors of Tsarism and the First World War, you can't blame workers, already impatient after 1905, the February Revolution and the July Days, for trying to create a new world right there and then, hoping others would follow. As Lenin points out in WITBD, it was the revolutionaries in Russia who tended to lag behind the class. It was only in October that the revolutionaries (Bolsheviks, Left SRs, and some anarchists), the class, and the conditions (at least in the industrial centres), were ready for an (initially) fairly smooth transition to soviet power - even if in the end the revolutionary wave failed and that soviet power couldn't hold out against global capitalism.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 12 2020 21:52

Indeed, during and after the first world war a number of working class militants such as Luxemburg came to recognise that the traditional social democracy policy of seeking to win a parliamentary majority on an electoral programme of reforms of capitalism could never lead to socialism. Luxemburg was very much sympathetic to the Bolsheviks, just as many others were in this early period when information was still scanty and Bolsheviks message was the prevalent one. She had criticisms of "big" policies such as attitudes towards the peasants and nationalities. But in relation to the focus of this debate she also differed on the issue of the Constituent Assembly.

Quote:
"To be sure, every democratic institution has its limits and shortcomings, things which it doubtless shares with all other human institutions. But the remedy which Trotsky and Lenin have found, the elimination of democracy as such, is worse than the disease it is supposed to cure; for it stops up the very living source from which alone can come correction of all the innate shortcomings of social institutions."

I never suggested a coalition or power sharing with "bourgeois" parties such as with the Cadets (although I accept their legalisation) but with those parties recognised by workers as legitimate expressions of their politics and interests, the SRs and Mensheviks, particularly the Left of them. (for the sake of debate we have to focus on Russia ie Petrograd and Moscow and not the Ukraine and Georgia and other regions deserving their own analyses.)

Interesting that the offer of alliance you referred to with fellow workers parties was also the time that Lenin was still committed to the Constituent Assembly that Luxemburg and Martov both supported

Quote:
"The compromise would amount to the following: the Bolsheviks, without making any claim to participate in the government... A condition that is self-evident and not new to the S.R.s and Mensheviks would be complete freedom of propaganda and the convocation of the Constituent Assembly without further delays or even at an earlier date. The Mensheviks and S.R.s, being the government bloc, would then agree (assuming that the compromise had been reached) to form a government wholly and exclusively responsible to the Soviets, the latter taking over all power locally as well. This would constitute the “new” condition. I think the Bolsheviks would advance no other conditions, trusting that the revolution would proceed peacefully and party strife in the Soviets would be peacefully overcome thanks to really complete freedom of propaganda and to the immediate establishment of a new democracy in the composition of the Soviets (new elections) and in their functioning. Perhaps this is already impossible? Perhaps. But if there is even one chance in a hundred, the attempt at realising this opportunity is still worth while."

But notice, the implication that soviet power is a necessary condition. What was the standing and allegiance of the soviets towards in September? Did the Bolsheviks dominate the soviets? Your mention of July Days was a time when Lenin actually disavowed the power and independence of the soviets and even his grassroots Bolsheviks such as Shlyapnikov, I believe, but I stand to be corrected by yourself on this.

The storming of the Winter Palace, was done by a few hundred pro-Bolshevik soldiers planned by the Military Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, of which Trotsky was the chair and which had a Bolshevik majority and which took its orders directly from the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. So, although the soviets had played a part in overthrowing Tsarism and opposing the Kerensky government, the events of November were a Bolshevik take-over.

Were the mass of the Petrograd workers consciously involved in deciding on the revolution? No. On the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find that in the night the Bolshevik Party had assumed power, the Bolsheviks had carried out a revolution while they were asleep.

The MRC was set up by the Soviet on the basis of defending Petrograd because it was rumoured of another potential Kornilov plot or an imminent invading German army. It was not set up on the basis that it would overthrow the provisional government. But then, under the pretext of organising the military defence of Petrograd from this phantom invading German army, Trotsky at the head of the Petrograd Soviet's Military Revolutionary Committee, took over the garrison unit by unit, through a system of commissars, first securing vital points like the train stations and telegraph office, then finally taking the Winter Palace.

Quote:
"even when the compromisers were in power, in the Petrograd Soviet, that the Soviet examined or amended decisions of the government. This was, as it were, part of the constitution under the regime named after Kerensky. When we Bolshevists got the upper hand in the Petrograd Soviet we only went on with the system of double power and widened its application. We took it on ourselves to revise the order sending the troops to the front, and so we disguised the actual fact of the insurrection of the Petrograd garrison under the tradition and precedents and technique of the constitutional duplication of authority”

Trotsky - Lessons of October

It would be misleading to say that it was carried out by the proletariat organised in soviets as such. Were non-Bolshevik proletarians in District soviets aware this was coming? No. Were the Left-SR participants in the MRC? No. Were even the moderate wing of leading Bolsheviks supportive? No.

But as I said the actual action did receive popular endorsement as it was perceived to be resulting in a coalition of workers parties, not a Bolshevik one-party state. The total lack of opposition to the Bolsheviks and the absence of support for the Provisional Government reflected the sympathies of the workers. Support for the action after the event from the Soviet of Petrograd Trade Unions and the All-Russian Soviet of Factory Committees amongst others. The factory committees rallied to the Bolsheviks because the latter appeared to support the workers' aspirations. The majority of the members of the Petrograd Soviet were in favour of the overthrow of the Kerensky government, but did this mean they were in favour of the installation of a Bolshevik government? What they were in favour of was a coalition government formed by all the "workers" parties, i.e. the Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, SRs and others. This was in fact favoured by many within the Bolshevik Party itself, but they were over-ruled by Lenin who went to great pains to disguise his party's coup as the formation of a soviet government, which it wasn't. Once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks side-lined the soviets almost straightaway. The soviets were always considered as a cover to secure Bolshevik power.

This leads us to another important divergence of our respective positions. Post-October and the situation of the soviets does find us disagreeing. Anarchists, Left SRs and Mensheviks scholars tend to coalesce in their criticisms of the treatment of the soviets by the Bolsheviks - and naturally enough, those sympathetic towards Lenin take a different view but surely the proof of the pudding is very much in the eating. The soviets were institutionalized by the July 1918 constitution, which voided them of all revolutionary and autonomous content.

To sort of sum up, within the SPGB some members think Lenin and the Bolsheviks were genuine socialists who were inevitably bound to fail to introduce socialism because the conditions weren't there for this and that their method of minority dictatorship was mistaken. While other members believe they were elitists, Jacobinists or Blanquists, from the very start who were always going to establish the rule of a new elite even though they labelled themselves socialists.

Rather than Bolshevik elitism was an inevitable product of the decision to build state capitalism in Russia in the aftermath of the October revolution, it was the other way round, the decision to build state capitalism was an inevitable product of the Bolsheviks' elitism.

Both analyses are an advance on the degenerate party and deformed workers’ state propositions offered up.

And yes, I concede to preferring Martov's viewpoint to Luxemburg's. One was on the ground and correct me again if I am wrong, the other was in a German prison during much of the key moments and we can imagine much of her sources were limited compared to an active participant...but again Luxemburg from a distance could perhaps see the wood rather than Martov who could only perhaps perceive the trees.

Outside the SPGB, this article resonated with me and I absorbed much of its content in these comments of mine so it is deserving of being credited.

http://www.whatnextjournal.org.uk/Pages/Ratner/Prematur.html

Dyjbas
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Mar 13 2020 00:14

I know the Constituent Assembly is a pet peeve of the SPGB. But 1) it wasn't the beacon of "democracy" it was made out to be (SRs won the election but the ballot didn't differentiate between the Left and the Right...), 2) when it was dissolved, workers and peasants were largely indifferent. In other words, by then events had made it a superfluous institution. Soviet power was where it was at.

ajjohnstone wrote:
I never suggested a coalition or power sharing with "bourgeois" parties such as with the Cadets (although I accept their legalisation) but with those parties recognised by workers as legitimate expressions of their politics and interests, the SRs and Mensheviks, particularly the Left of them.

But there was power sharing within the soviet government. At the Second Congress (November 1917), which approved the transition of power and the creation of the soviet government, the Bolsheviks won 60% of the vote, the Left SRs 15%, the Mensheviks 11%, Right SRs 9%, and the Menshevik-Internationalists 1%. As such, the Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) was composed of 62 Bolsheviks, 29 Left SRs and 10 Mensheviks and Right SRs (but the latter two walked out, so it was rearranged to include 6 RSDLP-Internationalists, 3 Ukrainian Socialists and 1 Maximalist instead). The Council of People's Commissars (Sovnarkom) by December 1917 was composed of Bolsheviks and Left SRs (until the latter walked out over the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918).

ajjohnstone wrote:
Your mention of July Days was a time when Lenin actually disavowed the power and independence of the soviets and even his grassroots Bolsheviks such as Shlyapnikov, I believe, but I stand to be corrected by yourself on this.

What happened during the July Days is that you had mass demonstrations of armed workers and soldiers, organised by the First Machine Gun Regiment in Petersburg (which had refused to participate in Kerensky's June Offensive). Under the banner of "all power to the soviets", workers wanted to seize power there and then. The Bolshevik Military Organisation and the Petersburg Party Committee got swept up in these events, despite the rest of the Bolshevik Party not advocating an armed uprising at that point. Lenin's position (and Shlyapnikov's, as I believe he didn't violate party discipline on this) was: "in order to gain power seriously (not by Blanquist methods), the proletarian party must fight for influence inside the Soviet, patiently, unswervingly, explaining to the masses from day to day the error of their petty-bourgeois illusions [in the Mensheviks and the SRs who at the time had the majority in the soviets]" (quoted in Rabinowitch, Prelude to Revolution). So, when the demonstration passed by the Bolshevik headquarters, Lenin initially refused to speak to them, eventually giving a short speech but without giving support or, importantly, condemning them either.

The demonstrations were violently dispersed by the government (and repression was supported by the Mensheviks and the SRs). Kerensky of course didn't care about the official Bolshevik position, and saw armed demonstrations as an excuse to arrest Bolshevik leaders and seize their press.

ajjohnstone wrote:
Were the mass of the Petrograd workers consciously involved in deciding on the revolution? No. On the morning of 7 November the workers of Petrograd woke up to find that in the night the Bolshevik Party had assumed power, the Bolsheviks had carried out a revolution while they were asleep.

The Bolsheviks didn't hide their programme. It was all there in print and in words: "all power to the soviets", “down with the Provisional Government”. A vote for the Bolsheviks in elections to the soviets meant a vote for revolution. So, to put it in "democratic language", when they gained a majority, they carried out the programme on which they were elected.

ajjohnstone wrote:
Once they got governmental power the Bolsheviks side-lined the soviets almost straightaway. The soviets were always considered as a cover to secure Bolshevik power. [...] The soviets were institutionalized by the July 1918 constitution, which voided them of all revolutionary and autonomous content.

Again, facts say otherwise. After the October Revolution, the network of soviets and factory committees was extended. Yes, the soviets were "institutionalized" by the July 1918 constitution, but that constitution was drawn and ratified by... the soviets themselves. And what did it say? "Russia is declared to be a republic of the Soviets of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies. All the central and local power belongs to these soviets." And what did it aim for? "The abolition of the exploitation of men by men, the entire abolition of the division of the people into classes, the suppression of exploiters, the establishment of a socialist society, and the victory of socialism in all lands."

I'm repeating myself now, but the dwindling of soviet power and the introduction of one party rule was a gradual process. It wasn't something that just happened on the eve of the October Revolution (which transferred power to the soviets), but over the following months of economic crisis, famine, foreign intervention and civil war.

I'll read the article you linked later.

ajjohnstone
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Mar 13 2020 03:43

The important point of our exchanges, Dyjbas, is that it makes me return to re-reading sources and interpretations.

We may disagree in our posts but by delving deeper and further, hopefully I gain a better understanding of the process. I never believed there are simplistic answers.

But, one unresolved question is if the situations and conditions the working class are confronted by today, can learn anything of real substance by the events of the Russian Revolution and the ensuing power struggles between contesting workers' parties and internal factions within these.

That is another debate, of course.

alb
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Mar 13 2020 08:55

To tell the truth, I don’t think what happened or did not happen in Russia in 1917 is in any way a model of what revolutionaries should do today or how we envisage the revolutionary change to socialism happening. The only good thing that the Bolshevik regime did was to stop the slaughter on the Eastern Front in WWI even if only temporarily. In that sense the Provisional Government as a pro-slaughter government got what was coming to it,

Dyjbas
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Mar 13 2020 11:15
ajjohnstone wrote:
But, one unresolved question is if the situations and conditions the working class are confronted by today, can learn anything of real substance by the events of the Russian Revolution and the ensuing power struggles between contesting workers' parties and internal factions within these.

I actually agree with alb that 1917 Russia is not a model - but it is a lesson. Obviously in many ways we are in a much different world today, so one would hope we won't find ourselves in a situation where the working class is a minority, or where after a bad harvest we'll have famine around the corner. But what's pertinent (at least for us in the CWO), is the need for an international political organisation consolidated around a clear programme, which has to participate in and encourage the establishment of class wide organs (councils, committees, etc.), but without becoming a government in waiting.

One of our responsibilities as the "conscious minority" is to pass on the lessons of past working class experiences. So banging on about the Paris Commune, the Russian Revolution, etc., is not the complete waste of time some would think.

alb
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Mar 13 2020 15:26

Nothing wrong with forming councils and committees or not wanting to form a government but what’s wrong with also aiming to take over the central administration of society (which currently takes the form of a state) and using this to co-ordinate the change-over? It is going to need to be centrally coordinated anyway. Taking over, changing (so it’s no longer a state) and using the one that exists would be far more simple and effective than trying to construct an alternative one from scratch.

Dyjbas
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Mar 14 2020 18:03

I'm with Marx on this: "the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made state machinery, and wield it for its own purposes." It's not fit for the purpose of the revolutionary reconstitution of society, and will become a fetter on the development of new social relations. The creation of alternative structures is necessary in order for the working class to learn to administer the new society. But this is an old debate.

alb
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Mar 14 2020 20:41

I know it’s been debated here before but, for the record, that statement from Marx says that the working class “cannot simply” lay hands on the state as it is now; which implies that it “can” though not “simply” ie that it would have to first adapt it before using eg. by lopping off its bureaucratic-militarist aspects.

In any event, it didn’t turn him against socialists contesting elections with a view converting universal suffrage into an “instrument of emancipation” ( see the preamble he helped draft to the 1880 election manifesto of the French Parti Ouvrier).

But as you point out, this has been discussed here before.

In any event in the end what Marx thought or did not think is a historical rather than a policy question.

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Cooked
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Mar 14 2020 23:22

I sense you are proving the nihilocom point with this discussion.